Boston College safety Jaiden Woodbey has experienced the highs and lows that football has to offer. He’s been a high school standout, a prized possession on the recruiting trail, tasted the transfer portal, and been on the right and wrong side of Saturday shootouts.
Woodbey treats each experience and incident the same, using every minute to his advantage during his incredible journey and aiming for greatness in all areas.
Boston College Safety Jaiden Woodbey is Aiming for Greatness in all Arenas
“My goal is to be like a renaissance man, be great at a lot of things.”
Isolated on a page, those words may look or feel like a brag. Everyone has goals and dreams — but to be great at a lot of things? That feels over the top, almost boastful. When you’re in the presence of Woodbey, however, there’s a humble sincerity about the words. Behind the words is the understanding of how to achieve the lofty goals he’s describing.
Furthermore, during an incredible journey from Fontana to Florida to Boston College and back, he’s already accomplished more than most merely dream of.
Achieving such greatness requires energy and action. It requires a surety of character, a surplus of inspiration and motivation, and it requires intelligence and dedication. Woodbey is lacking for none of the above, particularly energy and exuberance of personality.
It’s a cold December night in England — 10:30 p.m. to be precise — when the Boston College safety sits down with College Football Network. As lights are extinguished in the surrounding houses, Woodbey brightens the room with his energetic openness on all topics.
I ask a question, and for the next eight minutes, I don’t say a single word. Woodbey takes me on the rollercoaster that has been not just his college football journey but his life. From a kid growing up in Fontana, California, through a unique high school experience, to the whirlwind of being a five-star recruit, and ending with his time commanding the 100-yards of Alumni Stadium on Chestnut Hill with Boston College. There’s a common theme that runs through this whirlwind, and it comes from some fatherly advice.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Woodbey explains about how he’s leaving Boston College as a five-year starter who also has an undergraduate degree, two master’s degrees, a realtor license, and a health insurance license, while also being able to read French and be fluent in Portuguese. “One of the main things my Dad always told me was, use your time to your advantage.
Woodbey Takes Aim at Following in the Family Business
Donnell Lars-Woodbey has been the inspiration and motivation for his son. The younger Woodbey bought the energy and exuberance, but his father’s own sporting story guided the Boston College safety towards the journey he’s dedicated a good chunk of time to over the past 10-plus years.
Growing up in Fontana, Jaiden was a track athlete who turned his hand to football at the age of seven but was jolted towards pursuing greatness on the field aged 10.
“Once my Dad told me that he played in the NFL, I was like 10 years old on the freeway with him,” Woodbey recalls. “It just clicked. I was like I have to do this now! After that, we started to take it a little more serious.”
Having inspired his son to begin his own football story, Donnell was on hand to nurture and develop the future Boston College safety early in his journey. There’s an assumption that when you believe you can be great in multiple arenas — as Woodbey is aiming to achieve — that you’ve been mollycoddled and had your ego fed at every stage.
That presumption couldn’t be further from the truth where the former five-star recruit is concerned.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Woodbey said as he began to discuss his father’s influence on the trajectory of his journey. “My dad would always make sure that I went to my training. He’d watch film with me. He’d always be the one to tell me the truth. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. I’m grateful to have people like that in my corner, because a lot of people have people telling them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.”
“There’s a actually a funny story…”
At every stop on this pursuit of greatness in all arenas, with every minute that he’s taking advantage of both on and off the field, Woodbey has a funny story to tell. This time it’s how his Dad was the only one mad following a game-winning pick-six because he missed two tackles during the game.
Later, it’s the story of how he ended up at FSU, having been committed to Ohio State. Even during the darkest times of his adventure through life, there’s a funny story that goes along with it. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
From his on-field success to his numerous academic achievements, Woodbey is unique. Naturally, his football journey had to follow a similarly unique path. In the same way, there aren’t too many college football players with a litany of academic accolades, and not too many kids spend time at three different high schools.
Serra High School, Upland High School, and St. John Bosco provided Woodbey with a playground to develop his football intelligence while his personality allowed him to thrive.
“It was fun,” Woodbey explains. “It was different, unique, going to three different schools not to gain playing time but going to get better competition. I feel like I can fit in anywhere and I’m not a shy individual which helped me. Playing in multiple schemes helped me understand football a little bit better. When I got to Bosco, they showed me the difference between a 4-2-5 and a 4-3-4, the difference between Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4. With all of those things, every year, I progressed.”
Success came early and often during Woodbey’s high school career. After laying a sensational hit in his sophomore season, his phone blew up with offers from college football programs around the country. He won a state title as a junior with St. John Bosco. Meanwhile, he was an Under Armour and US Army All-American, showcasing his skills in events like “The Opening” on his way to becoming a five-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. Settling for success didn’t fit into the mantra of taking advantage of every minute.
“I had to earn all of those things,” Woodbey remembers. “Even though I got in, I got one of the last invites to the Army Game, one of the last invites to The Opening, the last invite to here or there. It wasn’t just given to me, I had to earn it. I feel like once you earn things, you’re more appreciative of it.
“Rather than things just being handed to you, you understand like, man, I’ve been through a lot just to get this opportunity so I’m not going to let it go to waste. I think that’s helped me grow as an individual as well.”
Even his fifth star came late in the recruiting process. Not that it ultimately mattered. Woodbey was committed to Ohio State regardless of his star ranking, describing the offer from then-head coach Urban Meyer as “one of the greatest days of my life.”
USC, Notre Dame, UCLA…the list of calls from numbers he didn’t know is as long as the nearly 3,000-mile journey from Fontana to Boston. Three days before signing with the Buckeyes, however, the star safety flipped to Florida State. Naturally, there’s a funny story to it.
“The main reason that I flipped was that it was my brother’s favorite school. We actually went to the Rose Bowl, two years back-to-back, and watched FSU play. We watched them win the National Championship then watched them get blown out by Oregon.
“What a lot of people didn’t know, was that I never got recruited by FSU, I just got an offer. So, I had no ties to FSU. I went in there cold, with no relationships or anything. I had to earn my job, earn my spot, and gain the respect of my teammates as well.”
Woodbey didn’t just earn a spot, he dominated in his first season with the Seminoles. Becoming just the ninth true freshman to start a full season for FSU, he was named a Freshman All-American after logging 58 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and eight pass breakups. A Florida State star was born.
Meeting Success with Adversity and Treating the Two the Same
Adversity would be just around the corner, however, forcing Woodbey to change how he looked at the football world and how he looked at himself. The mantra of taking advantage of every minute sharpened into focus early in the 2019 season when he suffered a catastrophic and potentially career-threatening knee injury in a “friendly fire” collision with a teammate.
“I learned that there’s a lot more to life than sports,” Woodbey said as he began to describe the impact of his injury. “I’m not used to being on the sideline. Not being able to play, it played such an emotional role, and emotional toll on my mind and my body. Every athlete, student athlete, football player, they feel like they’re Superman because you’re stronger and faster than the average person. I couldn’t even put my sock on, couldn’t feed myself, shower, couldn’t do anything without the assistance of somebody. It was very tough being so low.”
It wasn’t the first experience of feeling low that Woodbey would have at FSU. In his pursuit of greatness in multiple arenas and the desire to become a “renaissance man,” the Boston College safety has battled feelings of sadness even at the peak of his success. Thankfully, there was help at hand, and he now uses his personal experience to advocate for mental health awareness.
“I actually had a therapist at FSU, and she helped me out a lot. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Even in my freshman year, I was very sad and depressed and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so sad. Just figuring out what was wrong, it helped me play a bit better because I didn’t have to dwell on it. It’s something that people should take seriously. At least just understand that it’s good to check in with your mental health.”
Remarkably, Woodbey recovered fully from his catastrophic knee injury and hit the field for Florida State in a 2020 season that was disrupted by the global pandemic. Nonetheless, he still registered 28 tackles, 1.5 for loss, with a pass breakup and two QB hurries.
Additionally, he graduated in just three seasons. Following the season, the hard-hitting safety decided that his time with the Seminoles should come to an end. Don’t think for a second, however, that it was an easy decision for a player with FSU very much in his heart.
“It was very hard,” Woodbey said as he opened his heart about the departure from Tallahassee. “Looking back on it, I don’t think people realized how much I loved that school. I was involved in the community, and things outside of football at the university. I was fully invested and fully tied into that school. It was tough, but I knew that it was something that I needed to do to elevate myself, personally.”
The community element is just another part of Woodbey’s quest for greatness in all arenas. As an athlete and a football player, he recognizes that he’s a role model for other people. It’s a role and responsibility that the Boston College safety takes extremely seriously.
“Giving back opens your eyes up. A lot of time, people are going through things and once you do community service and you give back to that community, you look back at your issues and you realize they could be a lot worse.”
“I’m grateful to have helped these people out. What I’m complaining about is what somebody else could be dying to have. You don’t know who you could inspire. I feel like that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life is inspire change in somebody in a good way.”
Woodbey Brings His College Career to a Close at Boston College
For the past two seasons, the local community has been in Boston. Woodbey transferred to Boston College following the 2020 season, and during that time, the Eagles have gone 9-15.
That was compounded by a 3-9 campaign in what would ultimately be the former five-star recruit’s final season at the college level. With pressure from fans and media, the Eagles’ star safety lifted the lid on a locker room united despite the tribulations of this 2022 college football season.
“When you think of a 3-9 team, you think of a team that is separated and a team that has no glue in terms of leadership. I honestly feel like that was the opposite. We were very close knit as a team, especially on the defensive side of the team. There was no separation in the group, there was no dysfunction. We just came up short in a few areas, and that’s life sometimes.”
Football imitates life, sometimes. At the same time, Woodbey knows that there’s more to life than football. That’s not to say that the end of his college journey is the end of his football journey. He firmly believes he has the talent to play at the next level, and he’ll compete at the 2023 East West Shrine Bowl to prove it.
However, he won’t simply be defined by football greatness. Woodbey –the renaissance man — is aiming for greatness in all arenas.